Summer school ends on a sunny note

Just after 8 a.m. on Monday morning, dozens of elementary school students wait inside the main entryway of East Port Orchard Elementary School talking amongst themselves, adjusting their backpacks and laughing with friends as if well into the regular school year. Only, it’s August and the start of their fourth and final week in summer school.

There are over a hundred students enrolled in the District’s primary summer school program this summer, 357 enrolled at the secondary level. The primary program provides both enrichment and academic classes to elementary school students. Secondary summer school is primarily for junior high and high school students. Classes have run Monday through Thursday mornings for the past three weeks and a half weeks.

“This really provides a foundation for success the following year,” said Tess Danubio, principal of the primary summer school program. Danubio works as an instructional specialist for South Kitsap High School during the school year and has primary education experience, having taught fifth grade for seven years. Danubio was chosen for the job from a pool of applicants from within the school district, as were all the teachers. She estimated that about 30 teachers applied for roughly ten positions, teaching music, math and subjects in between.

Kelly Marsik is one such teacher. Marsik teaches a combined fifth and sixth grade writing class.

“I have a passion for writing,” Marsik said.

Marsik, who has taught fourth grade at Orchard Heights Elementary School for four years, explained that students learn freestyle and descriptive writing, as well as expository and persuasive techniques to prepare them for subsequent sixth and seventh grade writing classes during the regular year.

“It’s a wonderful class to assist students with their writing skills,” Marsik said. “I consider it more of an enrichment class.”

She teaches the six traits of writing: ideas, organization, sentence fluency, voice, word choice and convention. Most importantly, however, she teaches the District’s newly adopted “Step Up to Writing” program. The program uses color to teach elementary students organization in expository writing. As expository writing is writing that explains a point, the program is explained to students on large color-coded laminated posters. When Marsik asked the 10 students in the classroom to explain the Step Up to Writing program, hands shot up.

“Green stands for introduction and conclusion, yellow stands for details and red explains those details,” explained one student.

“It’s been a really neat way to organize,” Marsik said of the program adopted at the elementary level in September of 2003. “It’s been wonderful at an elementary level.”

Corey Millard, the principal of the secondary summer school program has been a teacher for 23 years and is currently teaching drama at Discovery School. He was also the principal of last summer’s primary summer school program.

“The high school program is really comprehensive,” Millard said.

According to Millard, he hired a staff in May, but staffing is enrollment-driven. Eight teachers are teaching in the secondary program this summer. They are paid at their regular salaries for the month-long temporary position and classes cover everything from band and swimming to academic classes like history and English.

“It’s been around for quite awhile and it shows,” Millard said of the program, located at South Kitsap High School. “It’s evolved.”

Millard said the beauty of the program is its timing: the gives students a few weeks off after the end of the regular school year and another few weeks before school begins again. However, the attendance policy is strict and the classes are graded, unlike some primary classes. Students must attend at least 50 hours of class time and get a D or better to pass.

Millard said there are generally two tracks that land students in summer school. The first track is credit recovery, that is, students who were held back or failed a class and need to make up the credit. The second track involves students who are working ahead to prepare their transcripts for college consideration and want to take credits during the summer to free their schedule for certain classes only offered during the year.

Kirsten Richards is one of three teachers teaching ninth through 12th grade English in the secondary program. This is Richards’ third year teaching and she said the class is a generic makeup class where passing students receive credit for a trimester of English. Richards’ class has students reading short stories, poetry and drama as well as writing expository and persuasive essays. The class is also built for silent reading, time to write and group work.

Richards said she notices a difference.

“I think that especially the kids who have faltered in their expository writing, (from the first paragraph they write to the last), I notice a change,” Richards said.

“At first they just think it’s going to be horrible,” Millard said. “There were a lot of kids here that didn’t want to be here at all and they’re still here. I have a lot of respect for people who overcome their fears.”

The 25 students in Richards’ class begin their reading of an assigned play, in small groups, six students per group. They sound out words, their voices carry. Richards said she knows most will succeed.

“A lot of them know they’re not stupid,” Richards said. “They know they failed because they didn’t do the work.”

Meanwhile, Marsik’s students are learning the steps they need to write intelligibly once they get to high school. They practice the steps: pre-writing, rough drafts, editing, peer editing and a final draft. Through the editing process, they also practice Step Up to Writing, underlining their drafts with green, yellow and red crayons to ensure they have an introduction, conclusion, topic sentences and paragraph support.

Although encouraging, Marsik is straightforward and honest with students about their writing. The students’ final assignment is to write an expository piece on something significant. Students could write on their pets, their hobbies, anything they could explain. The assignment was due Tuesday and as a special treat, students were allowed to bring their pets to school this morning.

“We’ve been working on this all summer and your writing has blossomed,” Marsik said to her class as she reminded them their papers needed a title and they had 70 minutes to write a rough draft.

One of her students was writing her paper on dance and asked Marsik for help.

“Think about what it takes to be a dancer,” Marsik said. “You have to grab the reader’s attention.”

The student’s one reprieve: they don’t have to write their papers in cursive. After all, it is the summer.

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